Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Top Six Board Games for 2006

By Ward Batty

Say "games" and most think of video or online computer gaming, but the humble board game continues to not only hold its own, but also grow and thrive. After a slow start, 2006 has shaped up as a good year for board and card games. Here's a half-dozen games worth checking out.

In Leonardo daVinci (Mayfair Games, $45), players each have their own Renaissance-era laboratories and are competing to be the first to complete experiments. Experiments require a combination of materials and time devoted to research. Each turn, players assign a worker or workers to a particular task, such as upgrading your lab (you can even add a robot to help with the work) or getting a needed material. This is a novel game that may seem intimidating at first, but after a move or two the game falls together in a most satisfying manner.

Many trivia games are releases each year and most are dreadful. So I am pleased to report that Wits and Wagers (North Star Games, $29.99) is a novel twist and a lot of fun, even for non-trivia buffs. Players bet on other’s answers, so educated guesses, hitting the jackpot on long odds or knowing the interests of your friends and family can all pay off. The game can be taught in two minutes and takes only twenty to play.

Aquadukt (Uberplay, $27.99) is a shorter game, about 30 minutes to play, that combines a nice balance of strategy and luck. Players have tiles with houses they want to place near water. Houses that are next to water at the end of the game score for their owners, but there is a risk that the region will fill too soon and houses without water are removed. Players may place up to three tiles with houses, place a spring or extend an aqueduct.

Buccaneer (Rio Grande Games, $24.95) is a fun game of recruiting pirate crews. Players have discs with their pirate crew with values from 2-5. Players can recruit another players' crew by stacking one of their discs on top of a single disk or even a stack of discs. Different ships require different numbers of crew discs before the can set sail. When your stack is the right size, you can set sail and collect booty, but this must be shared with the crewmembers belonging to the other players.

My favorite two-player game of the year is Medici Vs. Strozzi (Rio Grande Games, $22.95). Players are traders who want to fill their boats with the most valuable cargo. Competing over three ports, the highest value load pays a nice bonus, but players also want to deliver particular types of goods to particular ports.

Winners Circle (Face to Face Games, $35) captures the fun and excitement of a day at the track without the traffic and smells. Players secretly bet on three horses and then take turns moving them, so there is no small amount of self-interest at work in terms of wanting a horse to go fast or slow based on how they bet.